What Is Nipple Confusion? It Can Complicate Breastfeeding, But There Are Ways To Correct It
Breastfeeding is a huge time commitment for new moms who are already exhausted. It's totally normal for newborns to want to eat as often as 12 times a day, which naturally leads to sleep deprivation. It's tempting to give yourself a little break by letting someone else handle a feeding with a bottle, but that might end up causing you more headaches down the line thanks to the dreaded nipple confusion which could all too easily derail your breastfeeding plans.
Simply put, nipple confusion is when a breastfed baby is "having difficulty latching on after being fed with a bottle," according to Betty Greenman, IBCLC. Like many other lactation consultants, Greenman believes that new moms should do their best to only feed their baby from the breast at first — or risk developing issues with nursing. "If possible artificial nipples such as pacifiers and bottles should be avoided for the first four weeks to establish proper breastfeeding and sucking patterns." La Leche League (LLL) noted that bottle nipples are firmer than a mom's, and the milk flows out faster. Getting used to the ease of drinking from a bottle could make baby frustrated when he or she is put back on the breast. Greenman's solution is pretty simple: "Wait until breastfeeding is going well to introduce a bottle or pacifier."
Greenman recognizes, however, that sometimes that isn't possible. "There are reasons... that feeding from a bottle is necessary, in order for the baby to have extra calories for a short time until the baby can exclusively breastfeed." That can pertain to NICU babies who aren't yet ready to nurse, or babies who have lost too much weight after birth due to feeding struggles.
If you've already introduced a bottle and now feel like your baby is struggling to readjust to feeding at your breast, there are some things you can do to correct the situation. First and foremost will be lots and lots of snuggles. "Try to place your baby on your body doing skin to skin as often as possible," urges Greenman. Holding your baby close to you can help boost your milk production, which can make it easier to nurse. You can also try a nipple shield, according to Greenman, which fits onto your breast and gives the baby something larger to try and latch onto. "It's a temporary bridge to help go from bottle back to breast." You should note, however, that they can be a little tricky to get the hang of and should only be used under the supervision of a lactation consultant.
For those times when you want or need to give your little one a bottle, Greenman recommends the Comotomo baby bottle because of it's similarity to nursing. "This bottle is designed to mimic the breastfeeding process with their wide neck design, and the amazing smooth feel is an added bonus." You could also forego a bottle altogether with an option you might not be familiar with. "A great alternative technique can be finger-feeding. I use this technique with many of my patients. A syringe is used to put breast milk in while the baby sucks on your finger. The sucking technique to finger-feeding is similar to that which will be used at the breast."
While dealing with nipple confusion can make your breastfeeding journey more difficult, you can definitely overcome it with the right resources and support. If you're struggling, finding an IBCLC is a great first step.
After a very frustrating first birth experience, this Deaf mother wanted a change. Will the help of two Deaf doulas give the quality communication and birth experience this mom wants and deserves? Watch Episode Four of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below, and visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes.